If you're here getting all excited to see me jump onto the bandwagon of slandering this game into oblivion, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you.
I'd just come away from reading some performance review for the game that Google had recommended me, only to groan upon seeing all the comments outlining how they either felt sorry for anyone that played the game (why did you bother reading the article then!?) or suggesting the game was nothing more than some form of "woke" media, and some other pretty messed up comments I'm not even going to get into.
There's a line between not enjoying something, and going out of your way to ensure that everyone knows how much you dislike the game, that borders on mental illness. It's a game. Use the capacity of your brain to do something more productive, please.
Is Forspoken flawed? Yes. It falls short of what I'd expect from a AAA game. Is it a terrible game? No. Which probably summarizes my review, but I hope you'll stick around to read the rest of my thoughts on it.
I must also warn you that this review is a bit rawer than those I've written prior. I'd originally attempted to write it a bit more orderly, but it didn't pan out, so in the end it felt worth just throwing myself at it instead and letting those emotions flow.
Oh, and, spoiler warning! I'll try to avoid talking about what happens at the end of the game, but might drop little clues, so something to keep in mind!
Alice in Wonderland
Let's start off with the story. The game starts off in our world, introducing us to the main character of the game, Frey Holland. We're quickly thrown an underline of her life situation; she's poor and involved with bad people, and she's trying to start a new life for herself. It also becomes fairly evident her social skills aren't fantastic, as she's a little self-centred.
It felt to me that this part of the game is a little on the nose with what it's trying to convey. Throwing us from moment to moment with rather little time to digest anything meaningfully either. Furthermore, it takes a good amount of time for us to properly get into things, particularly when considering how long it takes to get to the meat of it (i.e. the open-world).
I suppose this is perhaps the conflict of trying to introduce a character while trying to ensure the player gets to the game as soon as possible.
We also learn that Frey's favourite book is, surprise, Alice in Wonderland - very subtle.
Personally, I think this whole first part of the game could've been discarded. I feel like an opening starting off in Athia (the other world the game predominantly takes place), with Frey having appeared, perhaps having lost some of her memories, may have come off a little more interesting in my view, perhaps regaining them as the story progresses, so she could develop more as a character as the story proceeds.
As her memories return, this could've given her more rooting in our world; maybe she really did have friends, a family, a boyfriend/girlfriend and a home, including her cat Homer. It would make the decision for her later in the game significantly more emotional, more powerful.
Instead, when Frey does finally make it to Athia, you'll have to grit your teeth a little bit as she frequently comes across rude and almost sociopathic. I'm not sure if this was due to her personality, or due to factors we learn about later in the story, but it gets increasingly worse as the story progresses.
Many have taken issue with her odd quips, and while I won't deny I am a little tired of it as a bit of a trope for main characters right now, it really didn't come across as bad as it was portrayed - it was more so her lack of empathy that frustrated me, and if that was due to the particular factors later on in the game, it really could've done better to perhaps portray or underline it.
So when it comes to the story, generally, Frey's journey is perhaps unremarkable, frustrating at times, but it builds up nicely towards the end and did leave me wanting more.
My biggest enjoyment when it came to this game is the world of Athia itself; the environments are generally rather quite beautiful and varied, and the amount of lore you can find in the game, detailing the world, and it's history, is great! I'd say the writing team did a great job with this.
Combat + Movement
I'd certainly got the impression that this was one of the things people really got excited about when this game was shown off for the first time and leading up to it's release, and personally for me, particularly the movement, feels great!
There can be moments when moving around where things don't flow quite so well, but it's typically purely because of player error than it is so much the game itself and was mostly something I'd encountered when trying to run up a wall.
That said, the combat can be fun if a little clunky? It's hard to describe but switching between spells didn't flow fantastically well for me - often finding that bringing up the wheel to pick a different spell interfered with it. Maybe there's a better way of doing it that I missed. There is an accessibility option provided that can help with this for your secondary ability at least.
This Hollow World
For this section, I'll be moving ahead and talking about the open-world a bit. As mentioned already, the environments are beautiful and varied, and the lore is plentiful, but I might take a slightly different tone having spent a bit more time running around the world after finishing the game and forming more of a rather negative opinion on this aspect of it.
While the environments look good and varied, they're also bare and empty in so many areas. It didn't quite hit me until I was actually done with the game just how bare some areas in the game are, even in-terms of general detail, particularly when compared to the original trailer for the game.
For example, here's a scene from the announcement trailer (probably staged as heck for the sake of previewing the game at such an early stage, but I digress).
There's some fairly dense foliage on either side, but to be honest (do correct me if I'm wrong), I don't recall seeing any areas in the game that had foliage quite this dense. There are certainly arguably woodlands, but the trees are so widely scattered around that it doesn't quite feel as dense as it should do.
You'll find a lot of the world tends to look more like the screenshot I'd taken, seen below.
To be clear as well, I was playing the game on the PlayStation 5. If you feel I'm being a little unfair, feel free to also take a look at the footage here to see the lack of density in environmental detail.
I don't like being one of those kinds of people, that always feel it necessary to suggest pre-release footage of a game looks better than the finished product, but in hindsight, it's a bit disappointing. It feels like the original reveal showed a game that was aiming well above it's hardware target, and the finished game is perhaps a result of scaling back to meet that hardware target.
I will confess however the original reveal didn't really show much at all, but to add some weight, there is some additional footage that was provided at CEDEC2020, which shows what the engine is capable of producing, but again, it doesn't really feel like the end product demonstrated these capabilities of the engine very well.
The video also briefly shows that trees have the ability to deform/flex, which could still be there in the final game - but heavily underutilized, likely due to the lack of any weather system in the game, which is something their prior title, Final Fantasy XV, featured in a limited capacity.
Digital Foundry also rightfully raised issues with the way lighting is implemented in the game. What confuses me is that, unlike FFXV, again, which had a day/night cycle, Forspoken does not, and I'm not entirely sure why? But given that, I don't know why they didn't choose to bake more of the lighting data instead of trying to aim at keeping everything real-time - a failing trend I'm starting to notice with many AAA games right now.
If it's not dynamic, bake it, damn it!
And ignoring the visual elements, many of the areas in the world essentially amount to nothing more than a checklist of different activities for you to perform, which are almost always the same - which can wear you down a bit when trying to clear each area. This isn't helped by the lack of side-quests.
So, you know, in summary - the world can be beautiful as mentioned already, but yeah, it's lacking.
A Technical Consideration
On the technical side of things, when playing this on the PlayStation 5 I'd had issues with the brightness, both with HDR on and off. With HDR on, things mostly looked okay, but the UI had visible artefacts due to the lack of colour depth - odd, and with it off, things were just really dark. I'd never had this issue before until now, but I will give the game the benefit of doubt and confess that the HDR support on my TV is not great, so this might be a matter of the TV being at fault and not the game itself.
So I'm going to probably end the review here. There were more things I could've covered, but I can't really say I've reviewed something that bothered me the more I thought about it, but you know what? Despite that, it's still not a terrible game in my opinion, the main campaign is worth playing the game for, and they still did a good job with the lore and world-building.
I'm looking forward to the expansion/DLC releasing in May and will probably cover that in it's own review.
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